AMCU gives its side of the story

Mara Kardas-Nelson
Mara Kardas-Nelson

We spoke to Jimmy Gama, Treasurer of the Association of Mine Workers and Construction Union (AMCU), about the Lonmin strike, the killings at Marikana, the status of negotiations and what needs to happen next.

Ground Up: What is your response to the recent announcement that murder charges against the miners will now be dropped, with those arrested released?

JG: We heard that finally [the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA)] realized their mistake. We believe it was a mistake for the NPA to charge the miners with a case of killing ex-fellow employees. We believe that the pressure which has been put on them has made them realize their mistake … The charges must be dropped completely now, and must be revisited at a later stage.

GroundUp: Have you had a chance to meet with those who were released?

JG: We have not met with them. I believe that as they were released they are still part of the workers that are on strike and I believe they will also join them.

GroundUp: What do you expect out of the investigation from the judicial commission of inquiry?

JG: We are ready for the commitment of the commission. We believe that we will also be invited to make a submission as to what happened and our role in trying to assist the company in diffusing the strike, as we were invited by the company to intervene. Whether the commission will come up with the truth in terms of who is behind this we don’t know. We only have to wait and see until all parties have made submissions.

GroundUp: Who do you think is ultimately responsible for the death of 34 miners on 16 August?

JG: I’m not in a position to put the blame on anyone at this stage, because remember the commission is there to assess those facts. But we have been thinking for the past few weeks that we believe as AMCU a massacre could have been avoided if the company did not change or renege on their commitment to negotiate with all the stakeholders. Before the shooting took place our president went to the company, on their request. Then there were discussions whereby the company, after we met with the workers, made commitments that these workers can go back to work as the company is committed to engaging with the demands. But on the last day, the company changed the commitment. The company even refused to meet with us to talk about those commitments. Therefore we believe that’s what triggered the situation. We are not saying the company is to be blamed, and we believe the commission will find out, but the company has to be blamed for changing their commitment, because if they didn’t change we believe as AMCU this massacre could have been avoided.

GroundUp: Why do you believe Lonmin reneged on their commitment? What happened?

JG: AMCU is one of the unions but there are other unions. There’s NUM and Solidarity, for example. The company had entered into an agreement with these other unions at the work place … They had an agreement in terms of wages and employment, and we believe that after AMCU made efforts to raise the issue there must have been pressure from these other unions to say “why are you engaging AMCU which is not party to the current wage agreement?” That’s what we believe could have happened.

GroundUp: And then did you go to the striking workers to tell them that the company had gone back on its commitment?

JG: We were consulting with the workers. When the company reneged on their commitment, we obviously were supposed to go and give reports to the workers, to say “this is what happened.” We went to the workers and we explained that the company has changed their commitment, but on top of that we pleaded with the workers to go back to work. But the workers told us, “Look AMCU, we appreciate your efforts. We can see that you’ve been trying to assist the process, but go back and tell them to come and tell us what is it that they’d like to put on the table even if it’s not the R12,500 that we are looking for. But the employer said, “No AMCU we are not going to talk to you.’” And the workers said, “Okay AMCU if that is the situation then you must leave, because we’re not going back to work. If the police want, [they can come] to the mountain and kill us, but we’re not going back to work.”

GroundUp: What are the demands of the workers? And how did AMCU get involved in the strike?

JG: The workers are demanding R12,500 as the minimum basic salary. We believe that before the strike started there were meetings between the workers and the company, and we believe between NUM and the company, to try to address the issue. The reason why we believe this is that there was even a notice board placed at the company by the NUM branch committee to invite their members to a branch meeting to give feedback on some issues. So we believe there had been engagement between the company and NUM. The company had offered R700 which was refused by the workers.

We didn’t make any demands as AMCU. We were only invited by management after the killing of security personnel. We were only invited to come and assist to deal with the issue. There was no demand from AMCU. When the workers demanded the R12,500, we said to the company, “you need to engage on that demand so that we can try and come up with a settlement … .” We know how negotiations work. You put in demands. The other party responds. And then you negotiate and you reach a point where parties agree.

GroundUp: And how much do workers make right now at the mine? What is the lowest wage?

JG: The workers have been saying it’s R4,500 but the company has been saying R5,400.

GroundUp: We understand that there were no representatives from AMCU at Wonderkop on the day of the shootings. Why is that? Were there AMCU representatives anywhere near Marikana at the time, or leading up to the events?

JG: We were not there because it was not a union matter. This was the workers’ matter. So we just went there to try to get the company to request the workers to go back to work. After our efforts received [a] negative [response] from the company we had to leave the area because it was not our matter.

GroundUp: We understand that negotiations are currently underway. How is AMCU involved, and what do you expect from these negotiations?

JG: Right now we believe there are ongoing negotiations, although we are not party to the negotiations, because we were sidelined by the facilitators, who are the Department of Labour and the CCMA. Last Thursday all parties were there. In the morning the company put their position and the worker delegation put their position. The CCMA saw that there was still no agreement between the parties. They requested a meeting between Lonmin management and the workers’ delegations. All parties were asked to leave the plenary and wait outside for two hours. We waited outside from 1pm to 6pm. The chairperson of the proceedings walked out of the plenary. He said, “AMCU give us thirty minutes. We are still busy. We will call you.” We waited an hour. We never got a call back. And around 9pm we saw everyone come out of the plenary room. We saw someone from inside there and the person said, “We were told that AMCU had already left!” We said that is incorrect. We are still waiting for them to call us here. We had to leave after the meeting because we felt that they had not invited us, and they never invited us for the talks yesterday.

GroundUp: Are you still in contact with striking workers?

JG: We are not in contact with workers. The CCMA went to the mountain to try and get the workers to go back to work but they never succeeded because the workers said “we will never go back to work until the company responds to our demands.”

GroundUp: What do you want to see happen now? What do you want from the SAPS, from the government and from Lonmin?

JG: We have to wait for the commission of inquiry to do its task. We feel that the company should now try to listen to the demands of the workers. The company must respond positively. The government departments that are facilitating this process must persuade the company to swallow its pride, try to cooperate with the workers and try to bring something to the table to convince the workers to go back to work. Those workers are adamant that they will not go back to work unless the company responds to their demands. The company must respond to the workers demands, and then we believe that once they do so, workers will go back to work.

GU: There’s been a lot of talk about conflict between NUM and AMCU. Can relations with NUM be repaired? If so, how?

JG: There is no hatred between AMCU and NUM. We don’t know where this comes from. As far as we’re concerned as AMCU, we’ve been in this field for twelve years. We’ve been interacting with NUM in various companies. In some companies we are even sitting together in forums with NUM. There is no conflict between the two unions. Even at the mountain, the workers who are sitting there are members of AMCU, NUM, and non-union members. They are sitting there on top of the mountain together as workers and members of different unions. If there is a fight between AMCU and NUM, why are those workers not fighting? There is no such conflict.

GU: What is your response to recent news articles which claim that police openly “hunted” miners, killing them even when unprovoked?

JG: We have no response to that. We believe that before the police shot those workers they could have used other ways of dealing with the situation. Those workers did not attack the police. The police went there where [the workers] were sitting peacefully and they shot them. We believe that was all on the part of the police. Perhaps they were acting on instruction, but that is for the commission to determine: i.e. what went wrong and why the police shot at the workers.

GU: What do you think needs to be done for the workers of the deceased, and who is responsible for this?

JG: We are very sad by this incident at AMCU. We have given our condolences to the families of deceased workers. We have even assisted the families with some money [for funerals]. But we are also thinking of a fund whereby we’ll request some people to donate to the fund so that the fund will be used to assist the family and the kids of the deceased mine employees. It was a very sad thing to happen. We hope it won’t happen again in our lifetime, so we are very concerned about the situation.

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TOPICS:  Marikana unions

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